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Caring and Feeding Your Creatives

  |  December 14, 2001   |  Comments

They're not the enemy. They can be your allies. Here's how the media team can better work with the creative department.

When creative and media groups don't make each other integral parts of their processes, marketing will fail. It's bleedingly obvious, yet the majority of creative groups are aloof to the media selection process (except, of course, to lobby the client to use television).

There are numerous reasons for this irrational trend, all of them complex. The one media people can actually do something about involves culture and personalities.

Creative Motivation

Creatives live in a world unlike the one media people inhabit. Instead of being held accountable to hard numbers, they are held accountable to very subjective -- some might say whimsical -- opinions of clients and creative directors. No wonder they have a reputation for being neurotic. It's also no wonder they don't embrace yet another group to their approval process list.

This system of accountability leads creatives into a mindset of worrying more about what will please a superior or make a better presentation than what will best accomplish an objective. It remains difficult for a copywriter, for instance, to admit that sometimes the most effective message is short, terse, and simple: "Buy two, get one free."

Being held to subjective performance criteria gives rise to a catty, gossipy culture in creative departments. An aspiring young designer can find his ideas judged "brilliant" when he's in favor and "pedestrian" when he's not. The closest likeness to a creative department may be a royal court. Being a good minister helps, but you'd better know the right dance moves. In the absence of data to prove success, a creative director can always declare your work a failure and eclipse your career with the moral equivalent of "l'etat, c'est moi."

Caring and Feeding

A media group must ensure that it does not demonstrate what an art director friend calls "the polarized lens effect" if it hopes to earn the cooperation of the creatives. That is, whatever the creative director approves will surely be rejected by the post-buy report figures, and vice versa.

Media people must approach creatives not as an approval process but as a resource. They can help creatives determine objective measures for their own success. If a buyer provides ammunition to a creative team, it opens the door to interdepartmental cooperation.

Two steps are necessary for this process. First, the media department has to initiate a meeting between buyers, planners, and creatives to develop data-collecting mechanisms (and not as a creative approval meeting). Second, the campaign must be an iterative process. Data becomes demonstrably useful only when applied to creative adaptations. Instead of instructing the creative team to winnow down 10 banners to a more successful 5 banners, the media team needs to rebrief creatives to create 5 new banners.

Creative Psychology

The media department can help correct the two most common creative fallacies. This is an overgeneralization, but most creatives I've worked with overestimate the importance of creative relative to media. This isn't hubris -- the other common belief is that they themselves aren't good creatives relative to others. Most creative departments are populated by people who believe creative is everything and that, ironically, they themselves are poor examples. There are those exceptional individuals whose sense of humility is nonexistent, but even they, in unguarded moments, are seen envying the work of others.

Demonstrating the positive effects of iterative media buying will open their eyes to other campaign elements and will instill a sense of creative accomplishment.

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Tig Tillinghast

Tig Tillinghast helped start and run some of the industry's largest interactive divisions. He started out at Leo Burnett, joined J. Walter Thompson to run its interactive division out of San Francisco, and wound up building Anderson & Lembke's interactive group as well.

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